“A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together!” — Author Unknown
How can you make your best contribution at work?
I’ve led distributed teams at Microsoft for more than 20 years and here’s the most important lesson I learned:
Play to Your Strengths
The sooner you move to your strengths, the sooner you improve your contribution. Find your strengths and offer them to your team.
It’s how to be your best.
It’s how you’ll feel stronger each day.
I’ve built a lot of project teams over the years for projects big and small.
Without a doubt, the most successful teams are where people play to their strengths.
It creates sustainable impact with people at their best.
Here are my key takeaways:
- Work outside of your strengths as an exception, not a norm. Don’t spend the bulk of your time in your weaknesses.
- Own telling the team your strengths and weaknesses. Make the team aware of what you bring to the table.
- There are not universal strong or weak activities. One person’s weakness is another person’s strength.
- Uniqueness is a good thing. Leverage the different strengths of individuals.
Your strengths are the most valuable thing you can share with those around you.
Passions Become Strengths
One effective team manager I know enumerates the passions of his team to find the gap with the business needs.
He believes that passions become strengths.
He also believes that if you play to your strengths, but have no passion, you stagnate.
The Intersection of Needs, Passion, and Talent
One of my mentors used a Venn diagram to show me the intersection of business needs, passion, and talent.
The ideal scenario is where somebody has talent and passion in a business need. Building effective teams means finding more overlap.
In Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, Marcus Buckingham writes about volunteering your strengths to your team.
A Good Team Member Volunteers Their Strengths to the Team Most of the Time
Good team members contribute their strengths.
“They have realized that the right, most responsible thing to do is to identify where their strengths lie, and then to figure out how to arrange those strengths most of the time.
They have then taken it upon themselves to seek out others on the team who are strong where they are weak.
Thus the team is well rounded, precisely because each of the players is not.”
Pinch-Hitting is the Exception to Teamwork
Stepping out of your strengths should be the exception, not the norm.
“Sure, occasionally each team member will have to step outside of his strengths zone and “pinch-hit” for the team.
But as every effective coach soon realizes, this isn’t the essence of teamwork, it’s the exception to it.
True teamwork occurs only when a complimentary set of strengths comes together in a coordinated whole.”
Figure Out How to Navigate Toward the Strengths and Away from the Weaknesses
Shift to spending more time in strengths, and spending less time in weaknesses.
To do this, you need understand your strengths in vivid detail and apply those to the team.
“This can be frighteningly hard to achieve, not least because it requires a coach/manager who has an eye for each person’s unique configuration of strengths and weaknesses.
But it is virtually impossible to achieve if you don’t take your own strengths seriously.
The team doesn’t need from you some vague willingness to ‘do whatever it takes.’
It needs you to understand your strengths and weaknesses in vivid detail and then take it upon yourself to figure out how to navigate toward the strengths and away from the weaknesses.”
“I Need to Do More of These Activities, and Less of These Activities …”
State your needs. You need to tell the team what you need to do more of and what you need to do less of.
“What this actually sounds like is you saying to your colleagues, ‘I need to do more of these specific activities because they play to my strengths, and less of these, because they don’t.’
You may balk at saying this because, frankly, it sounds self-centered and inconsiderate, even irresponsible.
But try to talk yourself through these initial feelings.”
Your Teammates Need to Know What to Rely On You For
You have to take responsibility for telling your team where you can make the most contribution.
“It isn’t irresponsible. Your teammates need to know where they can rely on you the most.
The most responsible thing you can do is tell them, and your strengths are the answer.”
Strengths are Unique, Not Universal
One person’s weakness is another person’s strength.
“It isn’t inconsiderate. Just because you don’t like doing certain activities doesn’t mean that all people dislike them the way you do.
I loathe confrontation and would be permanently depleted by a working day filled with it.
But other people seem to get a kick out of it. It’s not inconsiderate of me to hand off confrontation to someone like this; it’s practical.”
Focusing on Individual Strengths Make the Team Stronger
Your team should capitalize on the different strengths of individuals.
“And it isn’t self-centered. To assume that everyone loves and loathes the same things you do, and that your team should parcel out the responsibilities according to your pattern of loves and loathes – this is self-centered.
To assume that each person is wired a little differently, that what makes you feel weak might actually make someone else feel strong, and that your team should capitalize on these differences – this is, well, true.”
The bottom line is when you focus on strengths, you bring out the best in others and the best in yourself, and that’s what make a team strong.
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